In 2005, the Eccles Health Sciences Library was gifted a research catalog belonging to the late Irene Loewenfeld, PhD. A prominent and respected researcher of the human eye, Dr. Loewenfeld edited and published the principal medical textbook on the pupil in 1993 after conducting over 50 years of research on the subject.
Irene E. Loewenfeld was born into a middle class Jewish family in Munich in 1921. By the time Irene was eighteen, her family had escaped from Germany after the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) party and fled to Switzerland, then to New York City. In 1940 Irene began working full time in the eye pupil research lab of Dr. Otto Lowenstein and attending courses at New York University and Columbia University. During her thirty-fourth year, 1955, she submitted a thesis on the mechanisms of reflex dilation of the pupil at the University of Bonn in Germany and returned to New York as Dr. Loewenfeld. Later that year, Dr. Loewenfeld and Dr. Lowenstein received one of the first research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). By 1957 they had built an “electronic pupillograph,” the first device to accurately measure and analyze the diameter of pupils by incorporating infrared technology.
The obstacles and triumphs of Dr. Loewenfeld’s childhood and the beginning of her career are already stunningly compelling, but she went on to accomplish a great deal more. In 1983 she turned a manuscript over to Wayne State University that was published as “The Pupil.” This textbook remains the most influential historical and scientific book on the human pupil to date. What began as an enormous combined effort with Dr. Lowenstein to assemble all accumulated material, both their own clinical studies as well as historical research, was left for Irene alone to complete after Dr. Lowenstein passed in 1965. “The Pupil” became a monument to the work she and Lowenstein had started together. In a time when many women weren’t credited in textbooks they helped to write, Dr. Loewenfeld was able to publish this 2,300 page tome as the first, and sole, author.
Dr. Loewenfeld had the heart of a librarian, laying out the literature on every specific detail of pupil research, identifying the earliest mention of the topic in the scholarly literature, and showing the progression of knowledge through publications following. Not only did Irene serve as the primary author of a medical textbook and dozens of published articles on her own research, but she wrote with an unyielding sense of personal conviction. One of the unique qualities of “The Pupil” is that as a foundational medical textbook it still retains the personality and opinions of the author. Much like Irene herself, “The Pupil” is bold and passionate, her magnum opus dedicated “to those who came before us and to those who will follow–may this book form a bridge between them.”
The Irene E. Loewenfeld Neuro-Ophthalmology Collection. This collection is part of the NOVEL project. In partnership with the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library.